I recently read Miriam Thompson's Oped "For North Carolina to truly prosper, we need to take care of our workers" in November 6, 2015 issue of the News and Observer (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article43486605.html). This piece summarizes my own feelings about the problem of inadequate wages for hard-working people, and I thank Ms. Thompson for writing it. In a country built upon the premise that hard work helps you take care of your family, advance your position, and live a dignified life, it is a shame that so many of our fellow citizens are working full-time or more, and struggling.
At times I have worked on this issue and while it is encouraging that so many communities have made progress toward a living wage for the workers, 51% of American workers still make less than $30,000 per year. (1) This is only $2,500 per month before taxes. Caring for a family that includes children, and possibly older adults, is nearly impossible at this income level. Income and wealth inequality hurt all of us, not just those making lower wages. Countries with higher levels of inequality have higher rates of violence, higher infant mortality rates, higher rates of many diseases, lower life expectancies, lower scores on standardized testing, and lower overall financial stability. Raising wages is a crucial part of a healthy society, but it is hard to achieve in this day when large corporations and wealthy individuals have a much louder voice in politics than the working poor.
As a doctor, I learn about people's lives in an intimate way. I can easily say that the greatest obstacle to health that I have seen is poverty. So many of my patients have been very poor, crushingly poor where they have to choose between basic necessities such as food and heat, where there is no chance for them to buy presents for their children, where they lie awake at night wondering if they will have a roof over their heads the next day. And most of them are working.
In fact, being a doctor has often been disappointing because I have to prescribe treatments that people cannot afford, and I have to treat symptoms of problems that have their roots in poverty. This is what led me to work on raising wages for working people, but this fight is a long, hard one. In my years of working toward economic justice, I have only seen the wage and wealth gap grow, and the conditions for low-wage workers plummet. I hear presidential hopefuls talking about the importance of raising wages and raising taxes on the wealthy but none of this will happen without many, many of us working toward these ends on our own.
This struggle should not fall solely upon the shoulders of low-wage working people. Ms. Thompson wisely writes that we all have "...the awesome responsibility to challenge the current economic environment." I wholeheartedly agree, and believe that the lion's share of this responsibility is actually on the shoulders of those of us with higher paying jobs.
Life is busy and overwhelming at times, I know, but we must do what we can to help our fellow citizens live with the comforts that hard-working people deserve. You can start simply by signing the Fight For $15 voter pledge at http://fightfor15.org/voter-pledge/?utm_campaign=LowPay&utm_medium=web&utm_source=homepage_banner